Bill Moore-Kilgannon’s Rhythm of the Street

Review by Sophie Watson

THE PITCH

“Okay listen this isn’t one of those movies like those infomercials late at night with Sally Struthers holding dying babies, really it isn’t,” Bill Moore-Kilgannon pitches to TV station executives in Toronto regularly. Arghhhhh—the trials and tribulations of first of all making a movie and then trying to get a TV deal for a documentary with a compassionate, social justice hook. Reel World Productions’ Rhythm of the Street  sidesteps the stereotypes of third-world poverty and instead offers a potent look at the possibilities that love and art can offer.

“Oftentimes it is students who engage in critical thinking about where society is going, taking a more critical stance to the mainstream because it’s a time in life when you’re exploring new realities, you’re given that opportunity to look at new ideas and challenge things.”

Unfortunately the whole genre is considered a turn-off for mainstream media who generally won’t touch development stories unless there is an epic disaster. And so Moore-Kilgannon persists, making calls, knocking on doors saying, “No you’ve gotta take a look at this—it’s street kids doing music, making art, speaking up for their rights.” But it is a hard sell; the NFB said the film wasn’t Canadian enough, despite the Canadian girl who narrates the film and the Canadian youth featured in it. A snooty woman at one TV station told Moore-Kilgannon, “Well we only do productions about the high arts—we wouldn’t do anything like that.” Some regional broadcasters have come on board, but Moore-Kilgannon needs to secure a national TV station. This is his labour of love and he is determined to get it seen—not because it has cost him over $70,000 or all his free time for the past four years, but because this inspiring story of street kids in Nicaragua speaks to disenfranchised people in all cultures.

Nicaragua has a population of 4.3 million; 53% are under the age of 18. The second poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, Nicaragua has a 60% unemployment rate. With crushing international debt, the country’s already desperate situation was made worse by 1998’s Hurricane Mitch. Kids, often the only breadwinners in the family, take to the streets, selling Chiclets, washing windows, even selling themselves to get by. Many turn to glue-sniffing and crime. Nicaragua’s Institute for Human Promotion (INPRHU) is a non-governmental organization that tries to reach as many as they can of the one million kids who have no access to education or health care. Their program for the promotion of the family and the community has been in existence for 8 years and offers young Nicaraguans the opportunity to participate in classes and workshops in everything from personal hygiene and cooking to music and culture. Rhythm of the Street introduces us to a handful of the kids with whom INPRHU works.

The opening credits of Rhythm of the Street show close-ups of Nicaraguan children sleeping peacefully. Lofty orchestral music swims over their dreaming heads. The next scene shifts to the Calgary International Airport where ten Canadian kids are leaving on a Change for Children youth solidarity tour to Nicaragua. The film is narrated by Carmen Young, a nineteen-year-old from Lloydminster. We travel through Nicaragua with her eyes as a lens and her perspective as a teenager travelling in a developing country for the first time. We go with Carmen on the tour of the Managua dump where people scavenge alongside dogs for scraps of anything edible in the pouring rain; we see what she sees through the raindrops of the bus window. The tour goes to INPRHU project houses where Nicaraguan teenagers do folkloric dancing in tropical-coloured costumes. On the road, the tour visits the countryside to go to a centre called Muralismo where little kids learn how to paint the stories of their lives. The outside wall of this project house features a giant fist gripping a paint brush, championing the force of art.

Back in Managua, in the Las Torres barrio, we meet Trino and his family. Trino got involved with INPRHU’s programs six years ago, received an education, learned to play bass guitar and was part of the salsa band, The Lights of the Future, who toured Alberta schools for six weeks in 1998. We hear his band play and everybody dances some more. Trino tells us proudly that he has now become a music teacher himself. It is not until later in the film when we meet and talk with glue-sniffing boys and girl prostitutes that we truly see the life the INPRHU kids escaped.

Rhythm of the Street chronicles the benefits of social work and personalizes it in the context of the developing friendships between Nicaraguans and Canadians, featuring one-on-one mini profiles. Moore-Kilgannon’s target audience is students because as he points out, “Oftentimes it is students who engage in critical thinking about where society is going, taking a more critical stance to the mainstream because it’s a time in life when you’re exploring new realities, you’re given that opportunity to look at new ideas and challenge things.”

As Moore-Kilgannon points out, TV viewers have been inundated with too many ngo-type documentaries that are designed solely to pull on heart strings and solicit money, tending to focus on the lack of power that the subjects possess—ironically the helplessness of the people mirrors the ineffectiveness of the cliché. The ante can no longer be upped, people have seen the bloated tummies and flies in eyes of poor babies on their TV screens for years. But, at the same time, the basis of social movements is in one-on-one connections. This intimate film breaks through stereotypes of hopelessness and shows us the personal within the bigger picture—ultimately revealing the beauty of solidarity, the importance of community, and the power of art. Rhythm of the Street premiered at the Global Visions Festival November 4 to a full house and standing ovations.

This project was  supported by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA). It was published in See Magazine in November 2000, number 363

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